Fans of Hua’s acclaimed first novel, River of Stars (2018), will savor these unforgettable stories.

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DECEIT AND OTHER POSSIBILITIES

Secrets and lies drive the protagonists to acts of desperation in Hua’s dazzling story collection, first published in 2016 and now reissued with an additional three tales.

Most of the 13 stories are set in the San Francisco Bay area and revolve around characters from the Asian and Mexican immigrant communities who are caught between the expectations of their ancestral homelands and the promise of America. “My parents adhered to strict Chinese traditions that we learned to circumvent,” says Calvin, a closeted engineer who is spending a romantic weekend at a B&B with his lover, Peter, in “The Responsibility of Deceit.” For years, he and his sister “shared the responsibility of deceit, the big and little secrets that oiled the machinery of family expectations.” But when friends of his parents walk into the dining room at breakfast, does Calvin have the courage to risk his parents' alienation by revealing his true self? In “Accepted,” a darkly funny twist on the well-worn myth of the model minority, the pressure of filial piety propels the increasingly bizarre actions of Elaine Park, who pretends to be a Stanford University student to avoid disappointing her self-sacrificing family. Parents also deceive their children; in the moving “What We Have Is What We Need,” the young son of undocumented Mexican immigrants discovers that his unfaithful mother has been leading “an alternate existence, happier than what she was born to.” Hua writes with tenderness, humor, and empathy, imbuing her stories with lovely turns of phrase (“she had an eye for the fleeting”). Only “Line, Please,” about a Hong Kong movie star fleeing a sex-photo scandal, strikes a slightly dated and false note given the city’s current political turmoil.

Fans of Hua’s acclaimed first novel, River of Stars (2018), will savor these unforgettable stories.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64009-348-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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